The role of women in the Iliad is the central to the story, the war precipitated by the capture of a female of royal lineage along with untold wealth. From the beginning of the story, the tenth year of the war, the Greek forces are plagued with an incurable disease. How and why did it happen? Because of a woman. Female characters do feature throughout the story in one form or another and apart from Helen, one other created such havoc in the Greek camp, their champion and stalwart warrior refused to participate any further.
Briseis was the queen of Lyrnessos, abducted by Akhilleus after her husband and brothers were killed in one of the many raids led by the Myrmidon. He claimed her as a prize and concubine, as many of the women of the time were treated. How long was Briseis held captive by Akhilleus was never explained but from his reaction and dialogue, enough time for a bond to form.
Akhilleus disdain for Agamemnon is evident when the king refuses to return the priest’s daughter. This is the start of the trouble for the Greeks as Agamemnon wants to show who is in charge and teach Akhilleus a lesson.
‘But here is a threat: in the same way as Phoebos Apollo is robbing me of Chryseis, whom I propose to send off in my ship with my crew, I will come in person to your hut and take away fair-cheeked Briseis, your prize, Akhilleus, to let you know how far I am your superior and to teach others to shrink from claiming parity with me and playing the equal to my face.’
Taking Briseis away from Akhilleus was detrimental not only to the Greek army but also questioned Agamemnon’s position as overall leader. Akhilleus’ withdrawal from the fight gave the Trojans the opportunity to strike and launch an attack. There is a touching scene where Patroklos by the orders of Akhilleus leads Briseis out to Agamemnon’s heralds:
‘…the girl went unwillingly with them.
Withdrawing from his men, Akhilleus broke into tears. He sat down by himself on the shore of the grey sea and looked out across the boundless ocean.’
This shows a softer side to Akhilleus, an inner quality perhaps only a few were privy to see. The yin and yang of his personality.
Briseis was a commodity, as were all women during the war, and as such had no choice but to surrender her virtue and person to the victor. To do anything less would mean death. Survival is at the core of all humans, only when despair takes hold then the desire to die is stronger. Briseis succumbed to the “Stockholm Syndrome” as described by an FBI paper: a “psychological response of a hostage or an individual in a similar situation in which the more dominant person has the power to put the victim’s life in danger.” It is more common than most realise, when the victim sympathises and falls in love with their kidnapper. Perhaps it is the brain’s way of coping with the situation by protecting the victim from further harm.
I will leave you with the following quote:
Men, when they receive good from whence they expect evil,
feel the more indebted to their benefactor.
Thank you for visiting and reading. As always, I look forward to your comments.